Marriage, Civil Partnerships & Gay Rights: contemporary debates in historical perspective

Julia Moses will be taking part in a panel discussion at King’s College London on the 22nd October 2014.

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In the last two decades, significant progress in gay rights has brought public recognition and controversy in relation to previously ‘underground’ relationships and desires. With the 2013 Same-Sex Couples Act, heterosexual marriage in Britain has been extended to homosexual couples. The right to be married has become a powerful symbol of equal citizenship. Equality campaigners are calling for civil partnerships, currently only available to gay couples, to be equally extended to straight couples.

But for some, marriage still seems outdated and not fit for purpose. Marriage as an institution is in flux and under scrutiny – should it reflect individual desires? Or civil obligations? Should it still be a key site of religious faith? Is it a flexible institution that can be reshaped according to contemporary mores? Or does it reflect traditions and values that will resist the new demands of sexual equality?

Debates on modern marriage are nothing new, and marriage has a long history of being reworked according to changing social needs. Already in the sixteenth century, Britain controversially introduced civil marriage as a non-sacramental alternative to marital unions sanctified solely by the Church. Understanding the longer history of the shaping and reshaping of marriage can help shed light on its current controversies. This panel discussion brings historical and legal scholars into dialogue with contemporary controversies over the ‘marriage questions’ of the twenty first century.